Our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) recently posted Antiscience bill in Mississippi. They say:
House Bill 50, introduced in the Mississippi House of Representatives and referred to the House Education Committee on February 8, 2016, would, if enacted, allow science teachers with idiosyncratic opinions to teach anything they pleased — and prohibit responsible educational authorities from intervening.
HB 50 is the first antiscience bill in Mississippi since 2010. Previous such bills were unsuccessful, but in 2006, a bill initially unrelated to science education was amended to include a similar provision allowing teachers to discuss “the origin of life” however they please and subsequently enacted as Mississippi Code section 37-11-63 (2013).
Let’s take a look at Section 1 of the new bill (the rest is about notifications and the effective date). We’ll add some bold font to familiar creationist buzz-words and some Curmudgeonly commentary in red font where we think it’s appropriate:
SECTION 1. (1) (a) The Legislature finds that an important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive and scientifically informed citizens. [See What Is “Critical Thinking”?] The teaching of some scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education may cause debate and disputation, including, but not limited to:
(i) Biological evolution;
(ii) The chemical origins of life;
(iii) Global warming; and
(iv) Human cloning. [Does any high school teach human cloning?]
Some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information when debate and disputation occur on these subjects. [Like the teacher in Big Daddy?]
(b) The State Board of Education, local school boards, public school superintendents of schools, public school administrators and principals and public school teachers shall endeavor to create an environment within public K-12 schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education.
(c) The State Board of Education, local school boards, public school superintendents and public school administrators and principals shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education as it addresses scientific subjects that may cause debate and disputation. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught within the curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education.
(d) Neither the State Board of Education, nor any local school board, public school superintendent, public school administrator or principal shall prohibit any teacher of a public school system from helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of all existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught within the curriculum framework developed by the State Board of Education.
(e) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or promote discrimination for or against religion.
This is obviously based on the Discovery Institute’s Academic Freedom bill. We’ve critiqued their model bill here: Curmudgeon’s Guide to “Academic Freedom” Laws.
We took a look at the Mississippi Constitution, to see if there might be something relevant. Aha — Mississippi is one of 37 (or maybe 38) states to have enacted a version of the Blaine Amendment. In the Mississippi constitution it’s in Article 8 (Education) Section 208 (Control of funds by religious sect; certain appropriations prohibited), which says:
No religious or other sect or sects shall ever control any part of the school or other educational funds of this state; nor shall any funds be appropriated toward the support of any sectarian school, or to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school.
Is that sufficient to keep creationism out of that state’s public schools? It should be, but the legislators may be unaware of what’s in their state constitution.
Mark Formby appears to be the principal sponsor of the bill. That’s his page at the Mississippi legislature’s website, which says he’s a Realtor. That’s a good occupation for a creationist.
Other House members listed as authors of the bill are Lester Carpenter, a Paramedic, Becky Currie, a Registered Nurse, and John L. Moore, who has three occupations: Insurance and Investments, Bi-vocational Music Minister, and Small Business Owner.
You can follow the progress of their bill here: House Bill 50. Nothing’s happened yet except that it was referred to the Education Committee on 08 February.
As we used to do with our posts about other states, we recommend that the rational members of the legislature should give serious consideration to The Curmudgeon’s Amendment. It’s designed to nullify legislation like this.
The Mississippi legislature convened on 05 January, and they’re scheduled to adjourn on 08 May. We’ll be watching.
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